My Experience Taking Home 1st Place at the FLW Canada Cup!

I’ve poured a lot of emotions into this blog over the past 9 years since I began sharing my fishing adventures here. Of all the adventures, places, and people I’ve shared the water with, my recent experience taking home 1st place at the 2018 FLW Canada Cup with my friend Erik Luzak was certainly one of the most memorable and emotional yet! My head is still spinning with adrenaline and excitement, but I’ll do my very best to put it all into words.

Months ago, Erik, sent me text asking if I had heard the news that the FLW Canada Cup would be held on the Bay of Quinte this year. Following that, he asked if I’d like to partner up with him for this event. Erik is always a blast to fish with and with the event taking place on my home water, I couldn’t think of any reason not to go for it! I have fished small tournaments and club events in the past, but nothing of this calibre. I was excited and even a bit nervous as I counted down the days until the event, which took place August 16th to 18th.

FLW Canada Cup Tournament Format

The FLW Canada Cup was held out of Fraser Park in Trenton, Ontario. Nearly 80 teams had signed up for this tournament bringing in some of the most talented bass anglers in Canada. This tournament had a team format consisting of 2 anglers: a pro (the boater) and a co-angler. Although I am a boat owner also, Erik had signed up for this tournament as a pro, so this meant I would be joining him as a co-angler. All teams compete in the first 2 days of the event, with only the top 20 teams moving on to the final day. The top 20 teams would all win cash, plus the chance at bonus contingency prizes. The teams earning 1st and 2nd place overall would not only win cash, but also the opportunity to compete and represent Canada at the FLW Costa Championship on Lake Guntersville in Alabama! This year’s FLW Canada Cup was hosted by the wonderful Pallotta family of the Competitive Sport Fishing League. They always do such an amazing job of coordinating and hosting tournaments throughout Ontario.

Pre-Fish Strategy

Erik and I decided our best strategy would be to divide up the Bay for pre-fish. This waterbody is huge and has incredible fishing, but it can also be challenging with so much water to cover. Since we are both boat owners, we were able to set out separately focusing on different areas. This resulted in us finding key locations that were holding fish and also helped us to eliminate water. I had a few spots in my back pocket from growing up in the area and spending so much time exploring the Bay. We also spent some time fishing together as well which gave us some confidence we had a decent game plan to follow.

Morning Blast Off

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Awaiting blast off. The crew aboard the Live Release Boat (shown in the center) gave us instruction for blast-off and check-in times each morning. Photo by Eric Riley.
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Erik and I were boat #28 on the first day. Photo by Ashley Rae.

There’s nothing quite like the early morning blast-off in a bass tournament. It is magical skipping across the lake heading to that first spot with so much anticipation of the first cast and wondering how the day will unfold. On the first day, boats blasted off in two heats in the order which each team was registered. Each following day, the blast-off order coincided with the daily standings.

Day 1

Our blast off time for the first day was at 7am and we were due back at the check-in point by 4pm. Erik and I hit the ground running on day one and threw a variety of presentations. We covered shallow water using jigs to pick fish off structure. Moving baits, such as Chatterbaits and spinnerbaits, worked well overtop of and around weed lines. We also fished mid-to-deeper water using creature baits, jigs, and drop shots. We were happy to get our limit (5 bass) and were able to cull and upgrade throughout the day.  The day flew by and it was time to make our way to weigh in. Knowing this body of water holds some quality fish, I was so curious at what the weights would be.

Weighing In

It was a fun experience getting to weigh in our fish on the FLW Canada Cup stage. The stage set-up was impressive! Erik and I were able to bring in 20.55 pounds of largemouth bass putting ourselves in 3rd place! You can watch the live weigh-in from day 1 here.

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Our day 1 weight was 20.55 pounds of largemouth bass! Photo by FLW Canada.

During the tournament I was fortunate to stay with Erik, his girlfriend Emily, and her parents, at their home in Picton. They were so kind as to feed us and give us a place to crash. Their large garage was a perfect place for us to rig our rods and prep gear. I was so excited to get back out on the water after a great first day, I could hardly find sleep. But it was only the first day after all and so much can change!

Day 2

We were up early and anxious the morning of day 2 but then learned there would be a blast-off delay due to a storm passing through. Thankfully it cleared up and we were all able to get back out there. With the delay, our fishing time would now be from 9:15am until 5pm. We had to work hard to get the right bites on day one, and day two proved to be even more challenging. Our first day results gave us motivation to work harder on day two as we so badly wanted to move on to the final day. Once again we covered water hitting various spots we saved from the first day and in pre-fish. We even ventured into some new areas that looked promising. Using a variety of techniques again, we were able to find ourselves 18.55 pounds of largemouth on day two. This weight was enough to bump us up to 2nd place overall! Day two brought a special guest emcee, Chris Jones (from FLW in the United States)! His enthusiasm draws in a crowd and I was thrilled to meet Chris after watching him on the FLW Tour over the years. We were so thankful and excited to make it to the final day! You can watch the live weigh-in for day 2 here.

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Our day 2 weight was 18.55 pounds of largemouth bass. Photo by FLW Canada.

Day 3

The first two days were a bit of an mental rollercoaster, but Erik and I agreed to just focus on having a fun day of fishing on the final day. The mental aspect of the tournament was just as important as our fishing strategy and putting fish in the boat. The last day offered us a bit of relief as all the teams who made it to the final day would be going home with a cheque. Finding quality bites was even tougher than the previous two days, but since it was the last day of the tournament, we didn’t have to preserve any spots for another day. This time we went all out! Zipping around spot to spot, Erik and I picked up our limit but had a couple smaller bass on board we hoped to cull. Although we both had a more easy-going mindset on this day, we were even more ecstatic when a nice fish made it to the boat! Some cottage owners on shore cheered for us upon seeing us celebrate a nice bass coming aboard. There were a few celebratory moments like this throughout the day. We were able to cull the smaller fish out, but our weight was down from the previous days. We fished until the very last minute possible and then ripped back to make it to check-in for 3pm.

The Final Weigh-In

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Chatting and waiting in line for the final weigh-in. Photo by Eric Riley.

The final weigh-in was coordinated a little differently than the previous 2 days. This time we’d all be pulling the boats out of the water and up to the drive-through stage. The event organizers held the leading 2 teams to weigh in last. This was a nail biter for me! The team in the lead on both day 1 and 2 was Cooper Gallant and Danny McGarry. These are two phenomenal young anglers who had won this event in the past, and had the experience of representing Canada on Kentucky Lake in 2017. After having a taste of the experience, they wanted so badly to do it again! They truly are inspiring anglers. Throughout the tournament, Erik and I were hopeful to do well enough to make it to the final day. We never imagined it would be down to the wire like this though!

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Cooper Gallant and Danny McGarry weighing in on the final day. Photo by Eric Riley.

We watched as Cooper and Danny weighed in ahead of us, taking over the lead on Dave MacDonald and Mike Brayford (another team of top notch human beings)! I was so happy for these guys knowing they’d be getting back to the FLW Costa Championship! It was now our turn to weigh-in. As the truck rolled up to the stage; the music was playing, the crowd was cheering, and Chris Jones’ introduced us. It felt so surreal.

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Erik pulling our fish out of the livewell while I’m ready with a bag of water to transport them to the stage. Photo by Eric Riley.
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Chris Jones wanted us to show a couple fish to the crowd and the cameras. Photo by Eric Riley.

We made our way across the stage, where Chris Jones announced that we would need 13.20-pounds in order to take the lead. I could hardly breathe properly at this point. Our fish were placed on the scale, and Vita Pallotta read out:

“16.45!”

Chris Jones hollered:

“16.45! Your champions, Erik Luzak and Ashley Rae!”

This was certainly a moment in time I will never ever forget! The instant our weight appeared on the scale, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Erik and I were thrilled and even shocked! Cooper and Danny congratulated us with hugs. We each hoisted a couple fish for the cameras. I was so emotional that I was shaking. I found out afterward that I am the first female Canadian to qualify for the FLW Costa Championship in the FLW Canada era.

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Our total weight over the 3-day tournament was 55.55 pounds. Photo by Eric Riley.

We were then presented with the FLW Canada Cup trophy, along with a $10,000 cheque!

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A moment to remember! Photo by Eric Riley.

Here is the full weigh-in video for the final day:

Thank You!

I’m still pinching myself as this has been a dream come true! Thank you to everyone who was rooting for us via social media, messages, and calls. This was one of the most exciting moments of my life. Erik and I are so looking forward to heading to Alabama in November to compete in the FLW Costa Championship and represent Canada! A big congratulations to the 2nd place team, Cooper Gallant and Danny McGarry who’ve also earned their way into the Championship, and to all of the other anglers that fished hard making for such a great event! You can view the final tournament results here

I was way too emotional on stage to get the words out right (as you’ll see in the video)… but I wanted to thank some very important people. Firstly, thank you to my friend Erik for asking me to partner up with him for this tournament. We collectively put our heads together and figured out how to get enough of the right bites over the course of 3 days on the Bay of Quinte, and had a blast in the process! We faced some really tough competition with such an amazing field of talented anglers, certainly making us work hard for it!

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Congratulations to all that made it to the final day! (This photo does not include all teams.) Photo by Eric Riley.

I’m so grateful for the support from my family, friends, Emily (Erik’s girlfriend), and her parents for giving us a place to stay. I’m especially thankful for my significant other, Eric, who was such a big supporter and our number one fan throughout this whole experience. I feel so blessed for all the positive energy and encouragement we received from all of the above, through social media, and from other anglers fishing this event. The fishing community is truly special!

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My grandparents and dad were able to be there for the weigh in with some congratulatory hugs. Photo by Eric Riley.

Thank you to the companies that have supported my fishing dreams over the years, helping me spend as much time on the water as I do: Alumacraft BoatsYamaha Motor CanadaURBAN SPORTMinn KotaHumminbirdMustang SurvivalStriker Ice, and SAIL!

And finally, a massive thank you to the entire Pallotta family, staff, volunteers, and Chris Jones, for running such a top notch event! You made us all feel like rock stars and gave us all such an unforgettable 3 days! Erik and I have already signed up for next year’s event which will be taking place again on the Bay of Quinte! Hope to see you there!

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Some of the wonderful staff and crew that made the FLW Canada Cup possible. Thank you! Photo by Eric Riley.

Alabama here we come!!

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